Of Susu Pals and Unboy boys and a reading Bean

The Bean has decided she’d like to join the rest of her reading family. The Brat did this too. Made me wait months and years to see him read. And then began to read like it was going out of fashion (it is in some parts of the world!).

To me it was unthinkable that my children should not breathe and live the written word the way I do. Except that you can’t really force a love for the written word, can you?

When we were growing up, there were few alternatives to reading if you weren’t a sporty  kid. And while I loved the outdoors, small town UP in those days wasn’t really the place for a lone girl to be wandering around observing nature and watching birds. Still isn’t.

So I read and read and read, everything I got my hands on. But kids these days have options. Distracting options. Options that don’t require them to exert themselves. iPads, twenty cartoon channels, toys and games, malls (!). I try and restrict everything in that list, except the toys and games. And I read to them. And read. And read.

But more than that, I read to myself and they saw. They saw that mama was transported to another world in her book and could be remarkably grumpy when called away from it. Clearly there was something to it. And then the Brat began to read and wild horses couldn’t drag him out of a book until he was good and ready.

The Bean is a sprite… light on her feet, running up vertical surfaces, gracefully skimming across the tops of things, almost as light as cotton candy. I didn’t think she’d ever  take to reading. It required too much effort and why expend that when she had so much else to do?

Her progress has been slow too. And after the experience I had with the Brat’s slow start I was patient. I’d like to think!  But no dice.

And then she fell really ill a few days ago. Ten days during which she had viral fever, a terrible cough, a boil on her cheek, one in her nostril, a rash around her eye and then to top it all, a gastro infection that had her puking for three hours straight, ending up in the hospital emergency. She was so weak that she didn’t even jerk when they gave her the shot, didn’t shed a tear, just looked up at my face with betrayal and exhaustion writ large on her face.

I cradled her all the way home and wondered why she was being made to suffer so. In no small measure because of her constant playing in mud, climbing trees, petting strays and feeding cats, no doubt.

But she’d been so ill, that I had kept her home from school, refused to allow her TV for the strain on her eyes and had nothing to do but to lie next to her and read to her. And Her Highness had finally deigned to begin reading with me. Oh she could spell the words and read them out, she just hadn’t any desire to go through a book.

But she slowly regained health and chose to spend more and more time reading. Reading aloud first, then to herself as she got more comfortable. And then tonight, sweet revenge I made her read the book she’d made me read over and over again, until I was ready to slit my wrists. Richa Jha’s The Susu Pals is the book she loved enough to finally sit down and read to herself.

The Susu Pals

Don’t let the name put you off. I know there are purists who believe that there is a certain form literature must take. I have nothing to say to them. I’m all for reading everything, anything and having no boundaries on what one can read or write about. The Bean, like all girls, is constantly seeking that one best friend to bond with. We’ve moved thrice in the last four years, making that a little difficult. And then one of her closest friends moved to Colombo, ruining our last effort.

This book, about two best friends, Rhea and Dia, who do everything together. Even do susu together. I can’t tell you how happy this makes me because when I was a child I always envied the way men stood at the urinals and continued a conversation they’d started outside the loo, no sign of embarrassment. So while I’m not sure the Bean and any of her friends will end up sharing a toilet seat, I am blown away by the fact that Richa thought of it and used it. The ultimate test of friendship!

I also love the games the girls play together – robbing banks, slaying dragons, raiding tombs, sailing the seas as pirates. None of the stereotypical waiting for princes and making cups of tea. No sirree. Hear that crash? That’s Richa’s book bringing down the second taboo in as many pages.

And then one day Isha enters the picture and their friendship is not the same. Isha and Dia hook up, leaving Rhea out in the cold. Dia now finds her games silly, her ideas boring, and her company is unwanted.

Do Dia and Rhea get back together? Yes, they do. Read the book to figure out how. And there’s a surprise element towards the end that I won’t give away.

The Unboy Boy, seems to have been written for the Brat and I shook my head in surprise when I read it. It’s almost as though Richa visited our home and chose to write a book to that each of my children could relate to.

The Unboy Boy

As the name suggests, Gagan isn’t your average boy. He loves ants, he says good morning to the sun and eschews violence to the extent of not enjoying war stories (here I must digress, the Brat is taking a keen interest in history and wars!). His classmates tease him mercilessly and even his grandfather unkindly calls him a chooha (mouse).

And then one day while at camp, a pet cat disappears and there might just be a ghost around the corner. It’s up to Gagan to save the day now.

The illustrations by Gautam Benegal and Alicia Souza are simply fantastic. I’m sorry to lump the work of individual artists together, but both have a keen eye for detail and the little asides are fantastic.

Please buy. Please gift. And also read Art’s review of the books at Saffron Tree.


For the oneth of June

Beanism of the day: Dada’s birthday is on the oneth of June.

Yes, it was yesterday. We got him a gift, hand painted some cards and cut some Mango Mascarpone Cheesecake – I highly recommend the deli at the Fortune Select Excalibur. The cakes are delicious –  I’ve had friends bring them over for tea and so I finally made the effort to get the OA’s cake from there. Creamy, just the right texture, and being mango season it was a dream come true. They even had a fresh mango cake! The service was brilliant. I stopped there for a few minutes to pick up the cake and they bent backwards getting me water, offering me a chair and the newspaper.

After we put the kids to bed we went out to dinner to a little known place called The Banyan Grill at O Palacio. It’s got the worst location possible. Some MCD work going on and no parking so we parked far down the road and walked. A little crack between some asbestos sheets bang opposite the Hard Rock Cafe sign at DLF Place, Saket.  There were fuit vendors sitting around in the dark and flower pot sellers stacking their wares for the night. It was my idea and I checked twice with the OA if we should change our plans but he said we should learn to live on the edge. Right. I teetered in on high heels and a light cotton dress. And once we got past the worst a guard showed up, insisted on taking our keys and parking us in a safer, closer spot.

It’s one of those contemporary joints where art meets fashion meets food as we might have discovered had we come earlier than we did, at 11pm. Thank you, Gurgaon! The place opened up magically in the midst of the dust and dirt and the cliched but immediate image is of a lotus in a scum filled pond. A very Med feel with white washed walls, pebbled paths, fairy lights twinkling and tall palms waving majestically in the breeze. A tiny patch of  lawn and then high walls that open into a courtyard, a rickshaw full of potted plants parked in the middle of the greens. Steps lead down into the courtyard and the massive banyan tree  holding centrestage catches your attention. Tables scattered at many levels, windchimes ringing in the breeze, candles lighting up nooks, stairs leading off from the main area and an airconditioned room for those who choose to sit indoors. For a moment I wondered if it was haunted because it was deserted. And then suddenly the place came to light and staff rushed out.

The service was really fast and our crisp cool feta, rocket and pear salad was just right for a hot summer night. Actually, strike that, they had this huge pedestal fan in a corner and it kept everything cool and rather romantic with the leaves all fluttering in the breeze. I told the OA we needed one of those in the house. While waiting around we looked around and spied the boutique area – I’m told there are also sculptures by Yusuf Arakkal among others but by the time we got there it was really too dark and we were too hungry to feed our minds.

They had no alcohol other than wine. No sangrias unless they have a party, they said. Well, there goes my chance at imbibing, I shrugged. The OA who isn’t the type to get stewed to the gills unless there is scotch didn’t bother. I think we got high simply on the ambience and the  fact that we were the only patrons there. I don’t think it’s doing too well and if I had to find something to pin the blame on I’d say it’s the location. Haven’t they heard the rule of location, location, location?  I’m told it’s run by a designer, so maybe not.

The two girls serving us didn’t know much about the food but smiled sweetly and served fast so that they could head home, no doubt. The OA messed up my order while I wandered around taking pictures and instead of a Chicken in Veloute sauce I ended up with a Jamaican Jerk Chicken that I was just not in the mood for. The chicken was slightly undercooked but adequate once I got past the first bite.  The OA’s Rogan Josh (the man kills me!) was aromatic, delicious, juicy and served creatively. Portions were generous. My favourite naturally, was dessert –  Marilyn’s Lava Pear. A stewed pear drizzled with Belgian chocolate sauce  flavoured with star anise and decorated with walnuts, served with ice cream. Very nice. It does seem rather fitting that our birthdays are getting less boisterous and tastier!  I’d love to come back here on a winter afternoon and enjoy a relaxed lazy lunch in the dappled sunshine. There is a red snapper and a prawn in peanut butter sauce that has my name written on it. A meal for two should come to Rs 2500 without alcohol.

This review is the OA’s return gift to all of you. He believes that I write about everything except what he loves the most – food! And so since this is the family blog I’m going to make an effort to write more about everyone’s interests. And no, that does not mean there will be a dinosaur section.

PS: The pictures don’t do the place any justice.


The men in blue

I’ve never enjoyed cricket. Never understood the fuss over it and slowly grew to dislike the way a cricket match made life come to a standstill, delayed buses, cancelled parties and so on.

Until I read Anuja Chauhan’s The Zoya Factor and fell in love with skipper Nikhil Khoda. A lifetime of my grandmother gently guiding me away from M&Bs towards loftier literature and I regressed at 30 to fall in love with a dark, brooding, cricketer! Anuja sure did a good job of giving us a lust-worthy hero!

A few months down the line I go to watch Dil Bole Hadippa against my better judgment and let Shahid sweep me off my feet. There is something about men in uniform!!

I wondered how I could fall for two cricketers and then I realised it’s simply because sportsmen are so masterful!! Yeah I know, I’m easy to please that way. All the regular formulas work. Give me someone tall, dark, brooding, cocky and watch me have fun bringing him down to his knees (sometimes its the other way around). However this only seems to work with fictional heroes. None of our desi cricketers are really hot and articulate. They’re good at their job I suppose (if I am to believe what the OA says) – but they don’t really set my pulse racing.

I have had friends who worshiped Dravid and truth be told I did think he was cute in a certain way, but that’s about all there was to it. As for Dhoni and his kind *shudder* – inarticulate, uninteresting, cocky bunch who are just not my type. I remember one of my earliest assignments when I had to interview Irfan Pathan. I didn’t want to take it up because err… I didn’t recognise him. And the editor insisting on me doing it because the other girls were drooling far too much to get a decent interview. I had a tough time wriggling out of that one.

Anyway all this to just bring myself to acknowledge in public that I liked two fake cricketers so that I don’t go back on it.  Hey, it’s a start!

Dil Bole Hadippa was a decent watch. If for no other reason than that it’s inspirational to see the amount of weight Rani has lost! And if you want to be caught up in the whole Punjabi wave – I’m a Punjabi-phile, I am! On the other hand, you’d have to be deaf to tolerate the music. It was beyond awful and the lyrics were a string of gibberish. Ugh

Speaking of music, these two are my current favourite bollywood numbers.

And this one. What does Sanjay Dutt think he’s doing with Lara? He’s old enough to be her pop and the worst part is that he LOOKS it. And what is he wearing in the water? Is he in such terrible shape under it all? Ugh. I think Lara is looking awesome and I LOVE the song. On the other hand, I can’t help but ask – how many of us go to the beach covered in junk jewellery, hot though she looks. The OA freaks out if I put on sunscreen and wants to know why I am wearing ‘makeup’ to go to the beach!

The North East – not really burning bright

If I ask you to point Manipur out to me on a blank map, would you be able to do it? I ask, because yesterday I had the opportunity to witness someone comment on the north east “not behaving like they’re Indian” and then hesitating and stammering when asked where the Brahmaputra flowed through. The point simply being, that the rest of India doesn’t really treat the NE as a part of India either. I think it’s  a bit of a chicken and an egg situation. A vicious cycle. One can keep blaming the other or both sides can make an attempt to bridge the gap in understanding.

I was privileged enough to attend the launch of Deepti Priya Mehrotra’s book on Irom Sharmila: Burning Bright a couple of days ago. It was the same day as a friend’s dinner party and I had to beg off because I badly wanted to attend this. To my horror, no one knew what I was talking about when I mentioned that I was excusing myself to attend a book about Irom Sharmila’s struggle.

Some might say the only reason I am aware of her is that I am a journalist. I beg to differ but I don’t think anyone cares. It wasn’t that I spoke to a bunch of idiots about it. I spoke to well read, well traveled people who have an opinion on all things political. But were unaware of her existence.

This ignorance hammers home a point. A woman has been on a hunger strike for NINE years. NINE YEARS. NINE f**king years – and the rest of the country lives on, blissfully ignorant. Yes, 2nd November will be the ninth anniversary of her hunger strike. And yet we all know when Medha Patkar goes on a 20 day strike for the Narmada Bachao Andolan.

Yes, the government is force feeding her to keep her alive, but do you know what it takes to stay on nasal feed? For 1.5 days after the birth of each of my kids, I was on an IV. So while I wasn’t hungry at all, I craved food. I wanted the sensation of chewing, I wanted to feel the textures in my mouth. I wanted the crunch of papad, the sweet slide of custard down my throat, the pungency of pickle… It’s not easy to have a pipe shoved into your nose and to be forcefully kept alive.

Why on earth is she on a hunger strike anyway, they ask.

Good question. More ignorance. She’s protesting against the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 or the AFSPA. She’s protesting against the way the government is treating that part of the country. The military has full freedom to do as they please, which goes against the concept of a democracy, doesn’t it? Yes, there is insurgency  – but has the rest of the country been dealt with in this way? For years on end? Should the military, like the rest of the country, like us, not be accountable to law?

And let us not put the armed forces on a pedestal please. They’re as human as the rest of us. In 2004 they tortured, raped and killed a 32 year old woman. This lead to a group of Manipuri women protesting. They stripped naked and carried banners saying “Indian Army rape us”. These were ordinary women. Like us. To use a phrase only us Indians will get -they were also ‘ ma aur behen’. Imagine what kind of despair and provocation it would take for your mother or sister to march down the street stark naked. To protest without violence.

Young men are summarily killed. Four hundred men between the ages of 19 and 40 are killed each year. Are you aware of that? While you protest over suicides in Vidarbha, these are young lives being snuffed out with no one questioning as to why it is happening. About 300 of them leave behind widows and children. Every year. Who is feeding them? Who is educating them?

There are 16 insurgent groups working across the NE and I can understand that the government has it’s limitations. But is the answer simply this – to suppress them and trample on them? Can you imagine the growing unrest, resentment and hatred?

A young girl giving a testimonial at the book launch said that she was there recently for her grandmother’s funeral and they couldn’t get on with it. Wanna know why?  Because the place is under curfew after 5 pm. Five pm! Most of us are still in office at that hour. And during the day some insurgent group or the other declares a total bandh. So there is practically no time that the people, the aam junta is free to step out. They don’t know what it is to live a normal life. There is an entire generation growing up there that thinks the sound of gun shots and protests is normal. For the last almost FIFTY years.

Can you imagine living in that sort of terror? Not knowing if your husband will be suspected of terrorist activity and shot on his way home? Keeping your kids locked into the house all day? No playgrounds for them to run out to…

What is really sad is that Irom Sharmila is under arrest for the hunger strike- charged for attempt to suicide.They should arrest anyone doing anything that risks life and limb then. Like people who go mountaineering or bungee jumping. Anything could go wrong you know. I say arrest the buggers before they go parasailing too.

Of course its in their best interests to keep her alive because if she dies, Manipur will go ape shit. And I wouldn’t blame them. It’s like a pressure cooker waiting to explode.

What is this post about? Just awareness I guess. After four people looked at me blankly when I spoke of the “Manipur issue”, I wondered how many more there were. That and the unfair Armed Forces (Special Forces) Act of 1958. Down with 377 and down with this too. Everyone needs to be accountable. Would we accept any other state being treated this way for fifty years? Any other person being arrested for hunger strike for ten years?

Even today a young reformed man and pregnant woman got shot in Imphal. With no explanations. Or rather, conflicting evidence.

How can we sleep peacefully at night while a part of our country lies awake at night either mourning their dead or awaiting their turn? I could tell you to sign this petition, but I’m not so hopeful. We need more than petitions. We need less than violence. We need debate. We need a movement. We need to start caring. Will you?

I guess we will when we take time off from banning the holding of hands in public. And using festivals to make political digs. Ugh.

Until then, do read more about the north east, do care more, please.

Thoughts on Dev D

If you go to watch Dev D for one reason, it has to be the Emotional Attyachar song. The OA and I were in splits.

The rest of the movie – well it was a fresh take on Devdas (as fresh as that old story can ever get) and I liked the way the BMW hit and run case as well as the DPS MMS made their way in. I’ve been reading a couple of Indian writers over the last few days (Ameen Merchant and Anuradha Roy – yes, I knew you’d ask) and while I enjoyed the books and the pace, I love reading about contemporary India and I’m bored with reading about displaced Indians. So to have a Devdas back in this new avatar was good fun.

The scene that really upset me – when Paro sits down to wash his clothes in the dirty hotel bathroom. You have to really love someone to do that – no matter what you say to hurt them after that. Oh – and sunglasses. It’s amazing what you can hide behind them. Tears, black eyes, anger, hurt, blood shot druggie eyes.

A few months ago a tag-ish thing was doing the rounds about what you as a parent would do if your child was gay. I thought it was rather pointless. What can you do? What can your child do? Why would you want to do anything about it at all? I mean you could, if you are that sort, disown them. But for those of us who aren’t, the question seemed pointless. More to the point last night was – what would one do with a son like DevD? A wastrel, a junkie, jobless, spoilt and rude. Now that is when you ask a question like – what would you do as a parent? I watched his parents struggle to deal with him, from being soft to harsh and he just seemed impervious.

I cried through most of the movie. I’d just come from a press event and all my make up ran down my face as I sobbed like a baby. Don’t ask me why. Devdas always made me cry and with its contemporary references it made me cry some more. I’ve known too many junkies, too many people in rehab and too many failed romances to not find something familiar in each scene.

I loved the shots of the streets of old Delhi. The red light areas. The feel of Delhi. Man… I love this city. I loved the three men in hats who kept appearing. I loved that they got two men to do an ‘item number’ in a bar instead of the women. They were brilliant.

And while I live my clean, non-smoking, non-card-touching, teetotallers life, there’s something to be said for the debauched life. Something to be said for those who have experienced it all, hunger, poverty, craving, yearning, roaming the streets at night, finding the shady bars, seeing the other Delhi/city of your choice, while the rest of the city sleeps. I’ve done a bit of it, roamed the streets at night, penniless and hungry, fortunately, not alone (Don’t worry ma, it’s over and you didn’t find out, so all’s well that end’s well na?!) You’ve got to have seen every extreme of emotion to really have lived .. right?

I loved the music. It totally rocked. Loved Pardesi and Dhol Yaara Dhol.. .and .. oh all of them. And now I must go pick up the CD.

Was it a good movie? Well, I didn’t really care for the performances, a lot of scenes and words were thrown in for shock value but then isn’t that what makes it what it is? And I liked Mahie Gill. Kalki seemed to be there to showcase her Tamil and French. Well – it worked.

And I liked the ending.

PS: Read this review for a very nice POV.

PPS: Abhay Deol? Abhay Deol? Him of the ordinary face, jawline that knows no boundaries, and awful, awful body? no no…. I think there’s been some mix up!